At last, some cool heads on global warming January 27, 2010Posted by honestclimate in Discussions.
Tags: climate change, global warming, ipcc
At last, some cool heads on global warming
The Australian, January 28, 2010
HAS the UN climate change panel run its course as a useful player in global negotiations? Is it time for a less political body to take the lead in assessing the scientific evidence on global warming? These are questions that must be asked as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change faces serious challenges to its credibility. The intervention yesterday by UK chief scientist John Beddington may have sealed the fate of the IPCC, the body set up more than 20 years ago by the UN and since positioned as the authoritative body on climate change data. Throw in Beijing’s doubts yesterday on whether climate change is man-made or natural and it’s clear that scientists are now under intense pressure to prove their claims.
The IPCC will doubtless continue, but public faith in its declarations is evaporating as evidence emerges of the dodgy reporting practices and unsubstantiated claims made in its 2007 report. The document that underpinned the recent Copenhagen climate change summit has been found wanting in its claims on glaciers and the connection between global warming and natural disasters. As Professor Beddington says, “certain unqualified statements have been unfortunate”.
There has long been criticism of the IPCC as a body that has posited certainty when it should have emphasised the caveats to its findings. The Australian has consistently warned against claiming too much authority for the panel, given its composition, its processes and its role as a synthesiser of disparate research findings from thousands of scientists. We have always believed the IPCC reports need to be read with a healthy dose of realism even as we have backed action against the risk of climate change. Three years ago, when the IPCC report was issued, we wrote: “Let there be no mistake: all the signs suggest the need for action . . . but cool heads are essential.” We noted the big story from the report was the “higher level of implied scientific certainty” about anthropogenic warming and predicted the debate would be pushed out of the laboratory and into the political arena.
It has proved to be so, with politicians unwilling to manage the uncertainties and gaps in science as they push their constituencies to action. Still, nothing prepared us for the sloppy reporting, including the extraordinary process by which claims on the melting of glaciers were based on a third-hand news report. Our planet deserves better than that.
Where to from here? There seems little doubt we will see more examples of IPCC exaggeration: finding holes in the report is beginning to feel like shooting fish in a barrel. These investigations are important. The premise behind global action – that the world is heating at a dangerous rate and that we can do something about it – needs to be rigorously tested. If we are to sign up to systems such as the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, let’s do it on the facts.
Much of what is in the IPCC report still stands, but its flaws can no longer be glossed over in the search for a workable consensus on global action. The good news from this debacle is that climate change science and the claims made on its behalf, will now receive proper scrutiny. After the hyperbole leading up to Copenhagen, a more rational analysis is emerging.